Why big data alone won’t speed up your decisions

Bad news about big data systems: The tools won’t help you make decisions faster. Your people will - if you invest in people and process
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CIO Big Data Analytics

Last week, I had coffee with a colleague who’s been working with a mid-sized organization on a big data initiative. The initiative has involved numerous projects over the last seven years, all focused on bringing this organization’s data to the forefront of every decision and process. By all measures, the projects related to big data have all been successful, but the organization’s leadership is still a bit underwhelmed by what they can and cannot do now that they are a “big data” company.

During our conversation, I found it interesting that there are still some misconceptions about what having big data capabilities really means for an organization. 

As an example, this particular organization expected to be able to make decisions faster because their systems would have done the majority of the work for them. While they do have more data and more “information” available, they’re finding it difficult to actually put that data to use for the betterment of the organization. 

[ Are you skipping important data decisions? Read also: 4 bad data habits that devour value. ]

My friend said the biggest challenge he saw with this company was that everyone expected the various big data initiatives to deliver company-changing results. There’s nothing wrong with having those expectations, but to see big changes from big data, companies must invest in technology, processes, and people.

The right data science talent is key 

Big data without the right people and the right skills is nothing more than a bunch of data stored in a system somewhere.

As I like to tell people, big data without the right people and the right skills is nothing more than a bunch of data stored in a system somewhere. The real key to success in the world of big data is finding a way to convert that data into useful information for people to internalize. Once it’s internalized, that data will convert to knowledge, which is where the real value is found within any type of data.   

Big data is a real game-changer if managed correctly. It can deliver an exponential amount of value relative to the costs to implement. That said, big data isn’t a panacea for an organization. If you have don’t have people with the proper skills to analyze, contextualize, and internalize data, you’ll waste time and money.  

And while people and the soft skills are important, I don’t want to paint a rosy picture that people are all that matter when it comes to big data. You can have the best people in the world, but if the data they are analyzing is bad, the output of that analysis is going to be bad, and any decisions you make based on that analysis will be faulty. If you don’t have the right data strategy and governance in place, you’ll also be wasting time and money with any big data initiative.

Big data success requires good systems and good strategy, along with human experience, expertise, and intuition to make proper use of data. If you have the right people with the right skills and the right data management strategy and systems in place, your big data initiatives are going to be much more valuable in the long run. 

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free e-book: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a consultant specializing in the intersection of data, marketing and IT. In his consulting practice, Eric works with organizations around the world assisting them in understanding how to find value in data and technology. You can read more about Eric and his work on his personal blog.


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